By Njundu Drammeh
The Kanilai incident of the other day is not a Foni fracas, unless if someone can tell me that every village in Foni sent members to join the incident. Otherwise, the Farato riot should be referred to as the Kombo riot.
Kanilai is not Foni although one of the smallest villages in it. Foni is a “region” inhabited by different ethno-linguistic groups.
The Kanilai incident is not a Jola thingy. It cannot be and must not be referred to as one. It is a generalisation without basis. It is as best kith and kin of Yahya and supporters of APRC who were out to “defend” his property for whatever reason. In reality what did Foni or Jolas benefit from Yahya apart from humiliation, murder, insults, disappearances? Even some parts of Kanilai suffered his “apartheid”.
I read in some of the posts on Facebook that the half brother of Yahya, the apparent ring leader, was shunned by Yahya when he was here. So one must suspect this guy’s motives now. Certainly, it cannot be his love for Yahya or brotherly piety. The most vociferous, those making the headlines in their defense of Yahya, are not necessarily all Jolas. Seedy Njie, Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Yankuba Colley (whose maternal uncles I learned are Mandingos), Amul Nyassi are the firebrand defenders. I know of Jolas who had ever abhorred Yahya. In fact, Yahya’s support base was not Foni. We know who propped him.
Jammeh supporters have the right to protest, to support him. The Constitution guarantees it and equal law must protect it. In fact it is one of the pillars of New Gambia. Jammeh is exiled but as far as I know his citizenship hasn’t been revoked. He is Gambian. But Jammeh’s supporters, like his opponents, are all below the law. None can abuse the law or violate it with impunity. Jammeh’s supporters cannot debar people from entering Kanilai or obstruct law enforcers from carrying out their legitimate duties. That would be a violation which equal law must address.
No Olive Branch can be or should be extended to Jammeh supporters in Kanilai, Foni, Baddibu, Basse or anywhere. Why? What reconciliation? With who? What will be the added value? As far as I know none of these places has seceded from The Gambia; none is living under a different political and legal dispensation. So The Gambia’s laws apply to all, without discrimination.
It cannot and should not treat one group with kid’s glove and others differently. President Barrow is President of The Gambia, not a section or few tribes, even if a greater number of the voting population did not vote for him. That is academic now. In a first-past-the-post system, a vote difference makes all the difference. Jammeh’s supporters cannot be cajoled to accept this reality. Even if they refuse to, it wouldn’t change the reality. If they act contrary to the law, the law must take its due course.
I appreciate the fact that change is difficult to accept, even at individual level. People will first deny it, then oppose it and then come to accept it as the inevitable. Jammeh’s supporters will have to go through these phases even though some have quickly adjusted. But the nation cannot wait while they go through these phases. This “healing” process must happen at the individual level. Collectively, as a nation, there must be the acceptance of the reality, of a new dispensation, of the change of guards at State House. That’s non-negotiable. When we go to the polls next, our time in court, we can decide the next fate.
When we gave ourselves New Gambia, we consciously made the decision not to resemble Yahya or his Government even to the slightest degree- no makeup even. One of my good brothers, Sait Matty Jaw, said we voted for “systems change” and I agree in toto. Systems change requires system-wide approach and we have change of practice and attitudes as part of such an approach. We are slow in effecting such a system wide approach.
The State has the obligations to RESPECT, PROTECT and FULFIL human rights, the basis of our system wide approach. The State, or its agents, cannot be seen to dishonour these obligations, to not respect rights or protect its enjoyment. A cardinal duty of our number one protectors, our law enforcers, is to preserve life. Why should they take it? We have turned our back to illegality by whoever, including against extra-judicial killing. Those who violate the law should face the law, not the brute force of man.
We are on a learning curve. Men and women who have lived under tyranny for 22 years, some for their entire childhood, cannot be expected to learn the good ropes of democracy and human rights in 5 months or to exercise them in the best possible ways. After all, burning of tyres and vandalism are what the media has been showing us as what protests are, from old democracies. Blame Jammeh for denying us this inalienable right. We will learn; we will falter; we will face the full fury of the law; we will grow in our learning. The State and Civil Society Organisations have their work cut out for them. The time is nigh.
And I wish our President is talking to us more frequently; is convening more live press conferences; is visiting communities. Leadership is by walking and talking. Even Trump runs to media for everything even if he disses them all the time. Connection is important in leadership. People then know how much you care and that you are in absolute control. A nation in transition ought to have a lot of physical and virtual connection with its leader, its elected leader.
These trying moments too will come to past.